Russell looked down at his phone for seemed like the millionth time since he had texted Theodore. The man had read it more or less instantly, but it’d been nearly twenty minutes without another response. Either Russell was overthinking it again, or he had genuinely upset Theodore. He wasn’t sure which was more likely–he didn’t Theodore well enough to figure that out–but he hated the way it made him feel.
Russell: I’m sorry. We haven’t known each other long enough for me to start checking up on you as soon as your shift ends and I shouldn’t be doing wellness checks. I’m sorry.
Theo: Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry. I just forgot to respond. You’re fine, Russell. You didn’t do anything wrong.
Russell blew out a harsh breath. “Thank God,” he whispered.
Russell: That’s okay
Theo: Work was tolerable. Hip wasn’t great, but I managed. Books make it fun.
Russell smiled. Theodore definitely worked in that book store because he loved books. There was doubt about that.
Russell: I’m sorry your pain was a little worse today. I’ll make sure to wake you up next time.
Theo: You were sleeping, too.
Russell: I’ll set an alarm
Theo: Next time, huh? Presumptuous.
Russell’s heart skipped an odd little beat in his chest. Maybe that had been too presumptuous. Maybe–
Theo: What about tomorrow night?
Russell: I’d love to, but I’ve got a thing tomorrow with my brother. Friday?
Theo: Counter for Saturday? Vera and I always talk about our weeks on Friday. Which probably sounds lame and stupid, but it’s tradition.
Russell: I don’t think it’s stupid at all. I think it’s healthy. I’ll see you Saturday. Eating in or out?
Theo: In? But maybe… after Vera goes to sleep?
Russell’s brow furrowed. Did Theodore regret introducing him to Vera? He considered asking, but he didn’t want to push it. There was no reason to push it, not now, and especially not over text.
Russell: Saturday it is then. Should I eat beforehand?
Theo: Probably. Unless you… want to eat at, like, nine. Vera goes to bed at 8:45
Russell: Only if you’re teaching me to cook when I get there
Theo: I can do that.
Russell: It’s official, then. This Saturday, you, me, and some glorious recipe I’m learning.
Theo: Perfect. See you then, Russell.
Theo: Get off your phone. The city needs you.
Russell: City only needs me if there’s a homicide. But you’re right. You have more interesting things to do then keep me from paperwork.
Theo: You’re a dork.
Theo: See you Saturday.
Russell smiled, shaking his head as he slid his phone back onto his desk. He’d ask about the Vera thing eventually, but for now, he just wanted to be happy that Theodore trusted him enough to be able to call him a dork without apologizing afterward.
With Theodore, that was definitely something.
On Saturday, Russell pulled up to Theodore’s place at nine PM and texted him rather than risking a knock on the door. Nearly a minute later, Theodore pulled open the door. “I can’t believe you actually came.”
“Was I not supposed to?” Russell asked, head cocked to the side.
Theodore shook his head. “No. I’m just used to being stood up.”
“And then it somehow always being your fault, right?” Russell asked. Theodore offered a small nod. “I’m not like that. I will never be like that.”
“Yeah,” Theodore said quietly. He cleared his throat and took a step backward. “Well, come on in.”
Russell stepped inside, closing the door behind him. “So… what’re we making?” he asked as he kicked off his shoes.
“I wasn’t prepared to make that decision for you.”
“Us. It’s a decision for us, since you’re teaching me.”
After a moment, Theodore nodded. “I guess.”
“What do you have ingredients for that you enjoy making?” Russell asked.
“Goulash. I-I like making goulash, but Shane–”
“You–? Okay. Elbow macaroni, cheese, beef, onions, garlic, some italian seasoning. Goulash.”
“Totally down for that,” Russell said.
“One hundred percent. You had me sold at cheese. And macaroni, of course.”
“You’re not just saying that to please me?”
“No. Me and mac and cheese have watched some great TV shows together.”
Theodore chuckled. “Yeah, okay. Come on. I’ll teach you how to make goulash.”
Seated on the couch in the living room, Russell stuffed another forkful of goulash into his mouth, letting out a mildly embarrassing sound. “Okay, so, I could never make this without you holding my hand and making it stir things, but God, do I love this.”
Theodore chuckled. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Oh, I love it. Think we can do this thing where you hold my hand and make it cook things more often?”
“You really wanna… keep doing that?”
“Long as you want to? Definitely.”
“Then… yes,” Theodore said.
“Awesome.” A pause. “I’m also super sorry for that food-induced moan.”
Theodore laughed, shaking his head. “Don’t be.” His cheeks turned pink. “You aren’t allowed to respond to this next part, but it’s the sexiest sound I’ve ever heard come out of a man.”
One corner of Russell’s mouth lifted. “I really can’t respond at all?”
“Okie dokie. No response.” A pause. “Oh, that’s so hard to do, Theo.”
Without looking at him, Theodore bumped his shoulder against Russell’s arm. “Maybe I’m testing your self-control.”
“Is self-control a good thing, or a bad thing?”
“Depends on the situation. Shane was always in control.”
Russell let out a nearly distressed whimper. “Theo.”
Theodore chuckled softly, turning to press a kiss to his shoulder. “You can say one thing.”
“I think the fact that you think it’s sexy, and that you said it outloud, is a good thing. That’s a thing non-‘damaged goods’ are able to say about people that they’re… technically dating now? And like I said, you aren’t damaged. Stuff like this? Simple little stuff, but it can help show you that you aren’t damaged, that you’re just fine the way you are.”
Theodore seemed to mull that over for several seconds. “Maybe you’re right. I’m no expert in… any of this. Also, technically dating?”
“I wasn’t sure how to phrase it without it getting under your skin.”
“I think… dating works. I’m okay with dating.”
Russell smiled. “Awesome. Me, too.”
Theodore wrapped his arms around one of Russell’s. “I, umm… feel like I should tell you that–although I really liked cuddling with you–I can’t do that again.”
“Because of the hip pain, or because of something… Shane-related?”
“Me not being able to kiss you this morning when I wanted to was Shane-related. This is totally hip-related. My mattress and my pillows–they’re supposed to help with the pain. Or, at least, they aren’t supposed to help make it worse. The couch tragically doesn’t have those qualities when used for more than, like, an hour,” Theodore said.
“Okay. No more couch cuddling, especially if it lasts more than an hour. I can manage that,” Russell said. “You wanted to kiss me?”
“I thought about it, when I saw you look at my lips. But I knew I couldn’t. I don’t know if it’s because Shane would always use kisses to sign his ‘apologies’, or if it’s because it still feels like betrayal of him, but… I couldn’t.”
“I’m not expecting you to kiss me,” Russell said. “And, uh, at no point am I going to force you to kiss me. It’s important to me that you know that, or try to understand it.”
“I’ll do my best.” Theodore pulled away from him, clasping his hands between his knees. “What do you wanna do now? Watch Nurse Jackie?”
“Yeah, we could do that. But I’m gonna make you stand up in an hour and take a little walk around the house, just to make sure your hip doesn’t stiffen up too much,” Russell said. “Or… not make, but I’m gonna suggest it in an hour.”
“I like that idea. That works for me,” Theodore said.
“Great.” Russell cleared his throat as Theodore grabbed the remote from the coffee table. “You sure you don’t want any of this?”
“I ate supper with Vera. I’m not hungry.”
Theodore offered a smile. “I’m sure, thank you.” He turned back to the television and turned it on. “I’m just going to get us settled up with an episode of Nurse Jackie, and I’ll stand up in an hour like a good boy.” He cleared his throat. “Though I’d love if you pretended you didn’t hear those last two words.”
“Can I ask a question first?”
“Did he use to call you that, so you’d like to avoid it? Or do you just not like the way it sounds?”
Theodore stayed silent for a moment. “He used to call me it, usually when I stopped arguing for my side of a fight. I guess it was… even more proof he could defeat me if he ended it with ‘good boy’.”
Russell nodded, doing his best to keep his body relaxed, his expression neutral. The idea of some sick bastard like Shane treating him like shit pissed him off to no end, but he feared anger would set off every red flag Theodore was simply waiting for him to hit. “Well, I’ll make sure I never call you it, then. It’ll never be my goal to condescend you or try to… defeat you. That’s not who I am–not with you, not with anyone else.”
Rather than responding, Theodore laid his head on Russell’s shoulder. Russell smiled, reaching up to lay a hand on the side of Theodore’s head. He didn’t need a verbal response. That spoke much more than words could say, anyway.
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